What I understand most about my father.
My dad isn’t around anymore but his life, or what I know of it, definitely had a lasting influence on me; especially the fishing part.
He was born near Lodi, California, a grape farming town only a couple hours down the hill from Yosemite National Park. Yet we never went there as kids because he didn’t like crowds. For the same reason, we never went to Disneyland or San Francisco, etc. Instead my mom and the five of us kids packed up the Ford camper, sometimes with our aluminum boat on top, and ventured to the mountains or ocean. Looking back, I think money had a lot to do with his destination choices so I’m glad we didn’t have very much- I hate to think of how different my childhood experiences would have been.
I don’t know the locations of all those wonderful places that my dad took us, there were too many and I was too young. But I remember fishing on a frozen lake where my big brother was at the bow of the boat chopping away a path in the ice. I remember camping on a fishing harbor pier that had a sign that said “No Overnight Camping!” I remember fishing off a rock jetty and catching a bucket of smelt that we’d later fry. I remember throwing out crab nets somewhere. I remember clamming at Pismo Beach in the surf, Digging waist deep in mud for Horseneck clams at Bodega Bay, and Abalone hunting in Fort Bragg tide pools. My dad would also take my older brothers pheasant and duck hunting in the Delta but I was too young for that.
My dad grew up fishing as a boy but there was a long period in his life where he couldn’t fish. During the war (WWII), my dad’s family (like all Japanese Americans) was interned and sent to a relocation camp in Arkansas. While in camp my dad enlisted in the US Army, under which he would ride the Queen Mary to France and guard Nazi POWs. He once said that he snuck them food because they were only fed canned pineapple. After the Army he went to a trade school in Chicago before moving back to California. There he started a family, a business, a farm, and built the house that we grew up in. Eventually, he’d teach all of us how to hunt, fish, and camp.
Often we’d fish for trout, but not with fly rods. My memories of trout fishing are always in our aluminum boat, or my uncle Hank’s boat, with bologna sandwiches, Canada Dry ginger ale, Olympia beer (the first beer I ever tasted) and of course a can of creamed corn for chum. On those days we woke up early so I’d be drowsy once on the lake and the pattering sound of the water hitting the aluminum hull would lull me to sleep, or maybe I was just bored. To be honest, my memories of a smelly tackle box, two stroke smoke, and fish guts are not the best, but I’m sure my dad was in his happy place.
Being so young, I don’t remember any meaningful conversations I had with my dad during those trips, except one. He was talking about fishing with his friends when he was a boy. I asked him why he doesn’t go fishing with them anymore. My dad explained that it was a long time ago and when the war broke out they didn’t want to be friends with “Japs.” Then he looked sad, or mad, I don’t know, he just stopped talking about it. My dad was always loyal and kind to all his friends so I can imagine how much that must have hurt him. I’ve been treated the same way by strangers but never by my friends.
My dad’s life was much different than mine. I’ve often imagined what it must have felt like to live through what he did. With the best imagination I’d be way off, I’m sure.
But the fishing part of his life I do understand. Although the trout fishing I do today hardly resembles how my dad fished, the tug on his spinning rod all those years ago is the exact same tug I feel with my fly rod; Waking up early isn’t so hard when you get to go fishing; It’s better to fish than to be around crowds; And always bring cold beer (not Olympia).
Happy Father’s Day!